I have been bugging my boss at SB Nation to credential me to cover the NFL Scouting Combine for years now. Just ask him. Joel, I know you’re reading. I wouldn’t call covering the Combine a “bucket list” item, but I have always thought that being in Indianapolis would help me, and by extension Big Blue View itself.
As you know if you have been reading the site for the past few days, this was the year when SB Nation finally put me on its credential request list and the NFL issued its magic “yes” decree.
Thus, my excellent NFL Combine adventure began.
For a bunch of reasons — well, mostly because my travel plans were made late and I wanted to save some money — I chose to drive to Indy rather than fly. That’s just a shade under 800 miles. A trip the GPS estimated at 12 hours. In a car I never really wanted and that’s never been my favorite.
Now, Plan A was to split the drive from the upstate New York (Albany) area in two. My son and granddaughter live just outside of Buffalo, roughly 300 miles and 5 hours into the trip. It made sense to drive there Monday, crash, then finish the trip on Tuesday.
Only that didn’t happen. I felt like having dinner at home with my wife on Monday. I also didn’t feel like driving up the New York State Thruway while battling 60+ miles per hour wind gusts.
So, Tuesday morning at 6:30 I hopped in my 2010 Subaru Forester with 120,000 miles on it for the longest solo drive of my 58 years on the planet. Yes, I recognize that was just a little bit nuts. Something I reminded myself several times over the next 13 hours.
The drive to Indy
I figured the drive was going to take more than 12 hours, mostly because I expected to need more bladder-related stops (age and prostate surgery will do that to you) and a “car nap” at some point along the way.
The bladder stops I needed. Amazingly, the car nap was never necessary.
The biggest problem? I need a new phone!
I am clunking along with an ancient Samsung Galaxy S5, a phone I’ve always liked but has its issues. I didn’t account for the fact that my car charger doesn’t do a thing unless the phone is in the exact right spot, and that the aging battery drains quickly when I’m using the GPS. I had to stop several times just to go into a rest area, find an outlet and charge the phone. Annoying, and time consuming!
On the plus side, I saw one of the most beautiful sunsets of my life. Forget football. Forget everything. Sometimes you just have to appreciate the beauty of nature. Driving through Ohio and into Indianapolis daylight was waning and the sky was clear. As the massive orange sun began to settle behind the skyline, it left an amazing purplish tint to the sky. That’s a sight I won’t soon forget.
Story-wise, this is the boring part. At least to me. Work is work, whether it’s in my office, the MetLife Stadium press box, a ballroom at the Indiana Convention Center or wherever.
It was nice to finally meet GM Dave Gettleman one-on-one. I have sat through a number of his media sessions and asked him questions, but until Wednesday morning I had never been able to introduce myself and shake his hand. Mission accomplished.
I also discovered that DG and I wear the same sneakers. Nike Air Monarch’s, because I know you have to know. And yes, I made sure to point that out to the GM. Because, well, because it was important for us to bond over our shared footwear.
Also bumped into running backs coach Craig Johnson outside the media workroom while stepping out to clear my head between posts on Thursday. What Johnson was doing there I’ll never know, since the Convention Center is across the street from Lucas Oil Stadium. Johnson is originally from Rome, N.Y., so we chatted about our upstate roots while I impressed him with my tale of driving 13 hours just so I could run into him. Johnson and I also share some University of Maryland history since he was once a Terrapins assistant coach and I graduated from there.
Media, except for a select few Pro Football Writers of America members who get to see quarterbacks work out on Saturday, is not allowed into Lucas Oil Stadium for the testing. All of our work is done in the aforementioned Indiana Convention Center, a place that doesn’t look like much from the outside but is a massive structure that is kind of like its own city inside a city.
It proved excellent for burning calories since the media workroom is ion one corner of the second floor, while public Combine events are on the opposite corner of the first floor.
Ah, those public Combine events. Weirdest meat market I’ve ever seen. On one side, eight podiums for player interview sessions — with all eight going on simultaneously and echoing across each other. Players not at podiums are jammed into tables in a corner. On the other side, Radio Row. Or really, Radio Corner. A bunch or tables stuck in the far corner of the half-dozen or so adjoining ballrooms used for the public events.
In the middle of all of this? Make-shift bleachers and a make-shift stage where bench-pressing players are put on display like cattle for paying fans. By the way, those paying fans can’t really see the players, anyway. There is so much in the way that all they can really see is the big screen behind the bench-pressing player, showing him furiously pumping 225 pounds up and down as many times as he can before the weight practically collapses on top of him.
My big Indianapolis adventure came Wednesday night. Went out to dinner with Patricia Traina at one of the hotel restaurants attached to the Convention Center via skywalk. After dinner, Pat wanted to do a couple of things so I figured I’d walk the half-mile back to my hotel.
Only coming out of the restaurant I was in unfamiliar territory and I even managed to confuse my GPS. I managed to go about four blocks in the wrong direction and turn a 10-12 minute walk into a rather nerve-wracking half-hour journey back to my hotel.
By the way, many thanks to Pat for helping a newbie navigate his way around the Combine.
Friday did not go as planned
Remember what I said about not exactly liking my Subaru Forester? Well, now I have another reason. Checked out of my hotel early Friday, went to put my stuff in the car and figured I’d work at least until mid-afternoon before heading to Buffalo to spend the evening.
My car, though, had other ideas.
I knew there was a problem when I hit the keyless entry and nothing happened. I ended up having to manually use the key to get in, which let me put my luggage away. The car, though, was dead. Dead. Dead. Completely dead, to the point of not making a sound.
That started a nearly 3-hour adventure with AAA which included multiple calls, AAA sending out a tow truck that didn’t fit into the parking garage instead of a battery truck carrying the new battery I ended up needing and lots of panicked waiting around.
By the time I was good to go — not to mention out $131 — it was nearly 11 a.m. and I decided to just hit the road rather than go wait around for quarterback media availability. That, honestly, is something I really wanted to attend. By then, though, I didn’t care how big Kyler Murray was or how cool Dwayne Haskins thought it would be to play for the Giants.
I just wanted to hit the road and head home. So, I did.
Fortunately, no issues getting to Buffalo. Had a nice dinner with my son and a beautiful 3-year-old granddaughter who puts a smile on grandpa’s face. Got home Saturday for my older son’s birthday, which meant play time with my soon-to-be 2-year-old grandson.
Got to watch the CYO basketball team I coach win a 47-46 thriller on Sunday that had my heart pounding two hours after the game was over.
So, all’s well that ends well.
Would I do this again?
You bet. I’m not driving, though. I’m already turning over how to do a better job covering the Combine next year. I’d fly. I’d spend an extra day. I’d have a better idea how things worked, what stories to cover and where to be in the evening to meet and greet the movers and shakers of the Giants and the NFL.
I’m ready. At least I will be when my body recovers from the truck that figuratively ran me over and my heart stops pounding from a buzzer-beating victory.